The blogger Stephen Guise has an interesting take on fitness for the rest of us. It’s called the “One Push-Up Challenge.”
You can probably guess the end of this story, but I’ll take my sweet time getting there anyway.
What does every personal trainer or fitness guru tell you you need to do?
Three to four days a week in the gym, at least an hour a day, working your way up to 6 days a week in the gym – you know, what they do.
Sweat, push yourself, grind through the misery, and a bunch of months down the line you’ll have the body you always dreamed about!
What are most people ACTUALLY doing a bunch of months down the line? Dipping Doritos into a tub of cake frosting like it’s guacamole, watching American Horror Story or Game of Thrones (depending on what time of year it all falls apart).
Let’s jump over to Mr. Tony Robbins. In his book “Unleash the Giant Within” he posits that all human behavior is motivated by one of two things – 1) the desire to avoid pain; 2) the desire to acquire pleasure.
Pretty basic, right? Uncontroversial? Even if you’re behaving altruistically, the pleasure that you get from putting someone’s needs first and living in accordance with your values outweighs in that moment the pain or inconvenience you subject yourself to for their cause.
If we stay in a behavior, even one that causes us long-term harm (Doritos, cake frosting, Game of Thrones), it is because the fear of the pain of a change outweighs the desire for the pleasure of the result, OR even the desire for the avoidance of the long-term pain due to us by maintaining the status quo.
If we change a behavior, it is because the short-term pain of changing is smaller than the pain of staying in that situation, or the belief in the ultimate pleasure to be obtained by the change.
What could be a better illustration of this than fitness and the gym? I want to get more physically fit, look better and feel better after years of punishing my posture and metabolism running the DVB business …
But the short-term pain of an hour in the gym, three or four times a week, is greater than the pain I feel from my shitty body or the pleasure I expect to obtain forever down the road from sticking with it.
I have no doubt that the personal trainers are right – such commitment would get me results.
The thing is, such commitment doesn’t just fall out of the sky or appear by magic. It comes when a tipping point is reached – the tipping point of “Fuck this, I do not accept where I am today, I will meet my potential, whatever it takes.”
Too many people reach this tipping point when they’re diabetic and their health is shot, making the journey that much harder. Happy the man with a low threshold for that kind of pain.
Or is there another way?
I don’t begrudge personal trainers their living, and their living depends on selling that commitment to an hour a day, 3-6 times a week. More power to them.
But there’s something thrilling about Guise’s take on it.
It was the leading edge of his whole concept of “Mini Habits,” which is just what it sounds like – gradually adopt one easy-to-keep daily habit at a time, instead of trying to swallow the whole whale at once. Gradually they become second nature. Before you know it, you will have massively improved your life, more so than if you tried to throw a train at the problem, failed, and backslid with a vengeance.
It’s simple enough to be brilliant – commit to one push-up a day. Whose pain-avoidance instinct is going to be tripped up over one measly push-up?
As he described it, the result was this – he did his one push-up; felt silly for setting such a low goal, and then did a few more. Then he pulled out a 10-minute ab DVD and hit play. He had an escape route – he had already accomplished his goal of one push-up, and everything over and above was gravy. If he didn’t feel like doing the ab workout, he could always stop.
But then what happened? He did the whole ab workout.
On the flip side, at least once he forgot to do his pushup, and it only occurred to him when he was in bed that night. To satisfy his commitment, he turned over and did the push-up in bed. Ha!
I was reminded of a youtube fitness personality (couldn’t find it again – sorry! There’s so many damned fitness vlogs on YouTube) responding to viewer questions on how to get his girlfriend to exercise more since her fitness was declining due to job stress (way to grab the lion by the tail, buddy!)
This broad-shouldered broseph personal trainer had unconventional advice that I was so glad to hear from a fitness pro – “Don’t try to get her to lift weights or do a stair master for an hour – she’ll quit. Just walk. Get her to go for a walk. Every day. Not a long one, but if she hasn’t practiced fitness for awhile, it’s the right first step. I tell everyone this, and they don’t believe me, but for the love of God, just walk. WALK!”
Same principle here. It isn’t a nuclear option. You can’t sell four sessions a week with it. But it’s a habit that will stick, and that you can build upon. Within the year, Guise reported being able to do 16 pull-ups back to back and had a noticeably better physique.
I think I have my new fitness guru.